George Gillespie and days of civil joy

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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
This topic comes up in discussion every now and then. George Gillespie provides us with some much-needed wisdom to prevent our zeal from over-running our knowledge:

It appears that the days of Purim were only appointed to be days of civil mirth and gladness, such as are in use with us, when we set out bonfires, and other tokens of civil joy, for some memorable benefit which the kingdom or commonwealth has received. (English Popish Ceremonies, p. 245).
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Daniel,
Can you help me understand what exactly Gillespie means by "days of civil mirth and gladness"? I understand the concept of the state calling the church to days of Public Thanksgiving in response to significant answer to prayer, just as it can call the church to days of national fasting and mourning for significant disasters, as expressed in the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. However, these are hardly "civil" days of mirth and gladness since they involve two(!) full scale worship services, each specifically directed to include a collection for the poor (NB for the other thread on the origins of offerings as part of a worship service). And these are presumably intended to be one-off celebrations, not annually repeated celebrations like Purim and Guy Fawkes day, which Parliament initially commanded to be annually celebrated in churches. Certainly Guy Fawkes Day has become a day of civil mirth and gladness (and probably had already by Gillespie's day), but only because the memorable benefit has been forgotten, and especially from whom that benefit came. But it seems that if you were to remember publicly from whom the benefit came, it is no longer a day of civil mirth and gladness, and therefore forbidden. Can you help me to a clearer understanding of Gillespie's view?
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Daniel,
Can you help me understand what exactly Gillespie means by "days of civil mirth and gladness"? I understand the concept of the state calling the church to days of Public Thanksgiving in response to significant answer to prayer, just as it can call the church to days of national fasting and mourning for significant disasters, as expressed in the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. However, these are hardly "civil" days of mirth and gladness since they involve two(!) full scale worship services, each specifically directed to include a collection for the poor (NB for the other thread on the origins of offerings as part of a worship service). And these are presumably intended to be one-off celebrations, not annually repeated celebrations like Purim and Guy Fawkes day, which Parliament initially commanded to be annually celebrated in churches. Certainly Guy Fawkes Day has become a day of civil mirth and gladness (and probably had already by Gillespie's day), but only because the memorable benefit has been forgotten, and especially from whom that benefit came. But it seems that if you were to remember publicly from whom the benefit came, it is no longer a day of civil mirth and gladness, and therefore forbidden. Can you help me to a clearer understanding of Gillespie's view?

I do not know enough about the context to know specifically what he has in mind, but I think that he is referring to something like Guy Fawkes Day as it is currently celebrated. Such an annual celebration would not be the same thing as a thanksgiving day like those mentioned in the Westminster Directory, but primarily a day of civil celebration. Perhaps something like the 12th of July here in Ulster.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm sure you are right, but that still feels unsatisfying to me. If we are celebrating a date in which "the kingdom or commonwealth has received some benefit", ought we not to remember the one from whom that benefit came? To be sure, Purim studiously avoids any mention of the Lord , as does the entire Book of Esther, but I don't think that is presented as a positive model of godliness - how can you remember the day when you get relief from your enemies and your sorrow is turned to joy properly without giving due thanks to the one who accomplished that grand reversal?
To put it another way, when Northern Irish Protestants celebrate the victory at the Battle of the Boyne on July 12th - which meant their ancestors would be free to worship God in peace, no small blessing - must they studiously avoid giving thanks to God for that victory, restricting themselves only to marches and patriotic songs? If so, it seems strange to insist on a day of "Not Giving Public Thanksgiving". But if there is public thanksgiving, what makes it a day of "civil mirth and thanksgiving". This whole topic still seems obscure to me.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
I'm sure you are right, but that still feels unsatisfying to me. If we are celebrating a date in which "the kingdom or commonwealth has received some benefit", ought we not to remember the one from whom that benefit came? To be sure, Purim studiously avoids any mention of the Lord , as does the entire Book of Esther, but I don't think that is presented as a positive model of godliness - how can you remember the day when you get relief from your enemies and your sorrow is turned to joy properly without giving due thanks to the one who accomplished that grand reversal?
To put it another way, when Northern Irish Protestants celebrate the victory at the Battle of the Boyne on July 12th - which meant their ancestors would be free to worship God in peace, no small blessing - must they studiously avoid giving thanks to God for that victory, restricting themselves only to marches and patriotic songs? If so, it seems strange to insist on a day of "Not Giving Public Thanksgiving". But if there is public thanksgiving, what makes it a day of "civil mirth and thanksgiving". This whole topic still seems obscure to me.

It would be interesting to see the subject teased out further. It is possible that George Gillespie goes into the subject further in EPC given his tendency to slay his opponents, bury them, dig them up, and slay them again. At a guess, I suspect he would argue that there is a difference between a day for civil celebration in which we give God thanks as part of our historical celebrations and a holy day that is to be wholly taken up with religious matters.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I don't recall any development or description of civil holidays in Gillespie beyond the noting of them in that quotation, but in the same paragraph where he draws the parallel with Purim, he says there was no worship of God on those days (of Purim); so I wonder if that was how the very few state holidays were viewed in theory? After the restoration when the 2 Stewart 'holidays' were restored in Scotland they took on particular nationalism significance. I don't really know what the Covenanters did with those days the decade they held sway in Scotland. It is hard to believe they would observe them; at least not for the reasons James instituted them. I wouldn't go looking in the puritan era literature for a particularly well developed idea of state civil holidays and days off from work; almost all such days were the old holy days. For instance during Westminster, the puritans were concerned for the working servants who would never have days off except for the old holy days once those were removed; specifically thinking of their discussions of not observing Dec. 25th. This was part of the pressure I suspect on magistrates on the continent in forcing the retention of the 'evangelical feasts' in many of the Reformed churches that were rather seeking to diminish or get rid of the old church calendar altogether. Voetius at least puts the blame on the magistrates (and what he calls stubborn people who wanted them).
 
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